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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré 

WMO - World Meteorological Day
 'Watching The Weather To Protect Life & Property' 
 Keynote Speech
21 March 2013, Geneva, Switzerland
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour and a great pleasure for me to be here with you today to celebrate World Meteorological Day 2013, and fifty years of the World Weather Watch.

This year’s theme is ‘Watching the Weather to Protect Life & Property’.

This is a theme which seems particularly relevant in a world where we seem to be experiencing ever-increasing numbers of extreme weather events – from hurricanes and cyclones to flooding and droughts.

Over the past three decades, natural disasters have been responsible for over two million deaths and caused losses of over 1.5 trillion dollars.

The vast majority of these losses – both human and economic – have been caused by weather-, climate- or water-related disasters.

As Secretary-General of ITU, the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ICTs, my role – and indeed my dream – is to ‘Connect the World’.

So that everyone – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances – can have access to the enormous social and economic benefits of ICTs.

We have done a good job so far, with over 6.4 billion active mobile cellular subscriptions, and 2.5 billion Internet users – and we are working hard to bring the remaining two thirds of the world’s people online.

Because ICTs have a powerful role to play in everything we do in the 21st century – and that of course includes ‘watching the weather to protect life and property’.

Distinguished colleagues,

When it comes to the environment and climate change in particular, ICTs play a crucial role in several different areas, including monitoring and warning; disaster preparedness; and response.

Let me address these one at a time.

Concerning monitoring and warning, enormous progress has already been made, especially in terms of being able to take action ahead of extreme weather events, such as drought or winter storms, and especially hurricanes and cyclones.

Almost thirty years ago, in 1974, Cyclone Tracy, in Queensland, Australia, caused 71 deaths. Two years ago – thanks to advance warnings made possible by satellite tracking and monitoring systems – Cyclone Yasi, in the same region, caused just one death. That of course is one death too many – and we will hope to see future cyclones become casualty free.

Last November, Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the surrounding area and over 100 people died as a result.

But in earlier times, without the benefits of early warning systems and communication technologies to propagate the message, the death toll would have been vastly worse.

We should not forget that over 20,000 people lost their lives during the Great Hurricane of 1780, and that half a million people perished in the Bhola Cyclone which struck Bangladesh in 1970.

Remote sensing is of course also very important in terms of environmental monitoring and climate change mitigation – and I will say more about this in a moment.

Turning now to disaster preparedness, ICTs play a dual role, firstly in giving people on the ground a much better chance of survival, and secondly in allowing for a better, faster and more efficient and effective response, when disasters do occur.

Small improvements in technological progress can make a huge difference in this regard – for example getting more accurate and timely weather data, or even something as simple as today’s communication devices having much-improved battery-life.

Looking at response, we may not be able to prevent catastrophes from occurring, but ICTs can play an absolutely vital role when disasters do happen.

Most notably, we can help to restore vital communications on the ground – via the use of satellite phones and mobile base stations, for example – even when existing physical communications network infrastructure has been destroyed.

And we have seen the incredible benefits of this when disasters have occurred in recent years – from helping families to get news of missing loved ones, to helping medical staff know when and where they are most urgently needed, to helping coordinate search and rescue teams and the provision of relief supplies.

ICTs themselves can also play a very important role themselves in mitigating climate change. They can radically transform complete public sectors, such as transportation, energy, healthcare or government services – helping countries across the globe to make more efficient use of energy sources and reduce their greenhouse gases.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of this progress depends on close collaboration between different agencies, and on the detailed work which goes on in the background.

This is especially true for ITU and WMO.

We both have long and honourable histories – in ITU’s case stretching back to 1865, and in WMO’s almost as far, to 1873.

Our relationship is necessarily close.

WMO focuses its efforts on meeting the needs for meteorological information, and the corresponding radio frequency spectrum resources for its special use.

ITU, as the international steward of spectrum, allocates the necessary radio frequencies to allow the interference-free operation of radio-based applications and radiocommunication systems – both terrestrial and space – which are used for climate monitoring and prediction, weather forecasting and disaster early warning and detection.

ITU’s responsibilities in this regard include:
  • Maintaining the Master International Frequency Register;
  • Coordinating planned new satellite networks; and
  • Ensuring systems operate according to the provisions of the Radio Regulations – the ITU-brokered binding international treaty which governs the use of radiocommunication systems worldwide.

ITU’s work covers all types of civil and governmental satellite systems in all services – with the most popular being the Fixed Satellite Service, the Mobile Satellite Service, and the Broadcasting Satellite Service.

These systems – with some 400 geostationary satellites currently in operation – deliver services both for commercial and scientific interests as well as for governments.

About 40 more satellites are launched each year, either for replacement or for additional capacity.

In total, ITU processes over 300 GSO satellite networks annually, and over 2,300 are recorded in the Master International Frequency register.

Thirty years ago, when the satellite industry was still relatively young, six degrees of spatial separation between geostationary satellites using the same frequencies over the same geographic area was considered a minimum to ensure coexistence. This dropped to three degrees ten years ago.

Today, with demand for services driving the deployment of more and more space systems, ITU is dealing with spatial separation of as little as two degrees or even less, in the so called ‘high quality’ slots that position satellites to reach the largest number of potential users.

And space technology moves very fast. While we originally dealt with demands in the geostationary orbit at 6/4 and 10/14 gigahertz, we now get demands in the 30/20 GHz and even up to around 100 gigahertz.

ITU’s coordination role for new satellite deployments involves complex technical calculations and liaison with national administrations whose satellite systems and terrestrial stations may be impacted by transmissions from a new satellite.

Distinguished colleagues,

Last year’s World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-12, made some important steps forward concerning spectrum allocations for weather and climate purposes.
  • WRC-12 addressed global spectrum requirements for oceanic radars to mitigate the effects of disasters, including tsunamis, to understand climate change, and to ensure safer maritime travel. To this end, WRC-12 made a number of frequency allocations to the radiolocation service between 4 MHz and 42.5 MHz.
  • WRC-12 also made an allocation to the meteorological aids service in the 8.3-11.3 kHz band, paving the way for the establishment of a distributed network of ground-based sensors to locate the origin of lightning strikes.
  • In addition, WRC-12 extended the current allocation to the meteorological satellite service (MetSat) in the 7.85-7.9 GHz band. This will enable future MetSat systems to perform measurements and observations of meteorological and climate parameters with much higher resolution – and therefore allow us to better understand and predict weather and climate change.
  • Finally, WRC-12 agreed on an agenda for WRC-15 which includes specific agenda items related to climate monitoring and weather forecasting / earth observation which should reduce satellite complexity and greatly improve the capacity for high-resolution environment monitoring.

These spectrum allocations will help to deliver the improved climate services which are emerging today as one of the most crucial tools to address and adapt to climate change and climate variability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ITU also cooperates closely with WMO on an ongoing basis, and most recently we took joint actions at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP-18, which took place in Qatar at the end of last year.

Concretely, we made collective efforts to ensure that all essential elements that underpin observing systems are identified and managed at national, regional and global levels as appropriate, and that this principle was reflected in the output documents from the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, SBSTA.

This principle is exemplified in the meteorological and climate community by spectrum management under the auspices of ITU, with strong input from WMO and other agencies including IMO and ICAO.

In particular, operating under the WMO Commission for Basic Systems, CBS, the Steering Group on Radio Frequency Coordination operates within both WMO and ITU frameworks, and collaborates with both formal and informal radio frequency coordination groups to ensure that those frequencies and satellite orbits essential to Earth observing systems are protected and remain available.

It is essential that SBSTA recognizes and supports spectrum management as highlighted in Resolution 673 from WRC-12, and WMO Resolution 4 (Cg-XV) and Resolution 11 (EC-64).

I am also pleased to report that WMO has participated very actively in ITU’s ‘ICTs, the Environment and Climate Change’ symposiums, and I would like to draw your attention to the ‘Radiocommunications and Climate Change’ brochure which was updated last year and can be downloaded free from our website in all six official languages.

Another report of great interest is the output from the Broadband Commission for Digital Development’s Working Group on Climate Change, which is entitled ‘The Broadband Bridge – Linking ICT with Climate Action’.

This report highlights the importance of broadband networks in mitigating climate change, and is available from the Broadband Commission’s website.

Distinguished colleagues,

In the second decade of the 21st century we will need to take full advantage of the power of ICTs if we are to effectively ‘watch the weather to protect life and property’.

We will need to use the power of every technology at our disposal – from radars and remote-sensing devices to the powerful computers which are needed to compile and analyze the huge quantities of data being produced from climate and weather observations.

We will need to make sure that remote-sensing devices – on geostationary satellites, on polar-orbiting satellites, on rockets, aircraft and weather balloons, on the ground and on ships at sea – are all working together to deliver as full a picture as possible.

And most importantly we need to make sure that these systems and the data they generate is available to people in developing countries, which are often the most susceptible to the adverse affects of climate change, and are disproportionately affected by extreme weather-, climate-, and water-related disasters.

In addressing these and other challenges, you have my assurance that ITU will continue working closely with WMO over the coming years, will continue to actively cooperate with WMO at every useful opportunity.

And I look forward to seeing the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 continuing to support your noble and ambitious goals.

Thank you.